MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 63 – Aloha! Hawaii
The last day aboard the Lurline began the same as all the others with our son walking with the steward and ringing the bell for the first sitting for breakfast. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to getting off the huge ship, not only because of having to set up house again, but because I knew that Billy would not be allowed even a moment to help me get settled before he reported for duty.
After that, I knew that I would see very little of him since the 25th would be getting ready to depart for Vietnam, and the training would be intense, the hours long, and our time together more precious than ever. Thus, a rather glum mood accompanied me to breakfast while Billy looked like he was more alive than ever before. We asked our waiter when we were due to arrive in Honolulu and he told us that it would be about 3:00 p.m. Honolulu time, or an hour after the 2nd dinner sitting was finished so that those passengers had time get back to their cabins and prepare their luggage ready to disembark. We received a note from our stewards to have our suitcases in the hall by 1:00 p.m., so Billy would change into his uniform and I one of my nice dresses before lunch. The only things that we would be required to carry off would be the baby, of course, who Billy could not carry in uniform and her bag of food, diapers, and all the other required paraphernalia for infants, and this was indeed much heavier than our daughter in her infant seat was. I just hoped that Michael would be able to manage the gangplank by himself since both of us would have our hands full.
Billy found a Laundromat on board and right after breakfast, we planned to wash the clothing and diapers in order to have most clean since we had no idea what facilities were available in the temporary housing where we would be staying until Billy and Rusty had an opportunity to look for houses close to each other. Thankfully the machines were free since we had barely enough left to give our waiter, stewards and stewardess (who had done nothing for us really), the minimum tip. The chef had gone all out for this last breakfast, although I was told that the Captain’s dinner the night before for the first class passengers was absolutely opulent, but we must have been fortunate enough to get their leftovers. For that last breakfast, we all had fresh pineapple, and I wondered if I would ever be able to eat the canned variety again since there was very little resemblance in texture or taste. Billy and I had Eggs Benedict with fresh asparagus, although Billy quickly put his asparagus on my plate, Michael had a pancake shaped like Mickey Mouse with his big ears, and he was very pleased, although we had to convince him that he could eat ‘Mickey’. The waiter passed a platter of fresh exotic fruit, and this time I joined Billy in turning down the mango and papaya since I had not been impressed with either. I did like this strange green fruit called Kiwi, and pomegranate but Billy would not try either, just stuck to his fresh pineapple. The waiter told us that the island of Oahu was awash with pineapple plantations, although the trend was now to move out to the larger islands as land became worth more money than a pineapple or sugarcane farmer could earn on well-developed Oahu, but he assured us that we would find plenty of fresh pineapple. He also told us that it was a $100 fine if caught picking a pineapple out of the fields, but that there was a tourist stand on the main road from Honolulu to Wiamea, not far from Schofield Barracks, where cold fresh pineapple was available daily. Billy put this on his list of things to do and see for the weekends, and I just hoped that he have some time at home for us to explore the island before he left.
After breakfast, we washed and dried our small amount of clothing and at least three-dozen diapers before we took our customary walk around the decks. Unexpectedly and suddenly, Michael ran to the railing and when Billy grabbed for him so he would not go over, we really had no fear. Michael got about halfway there, stopped short, looked at the ocean, and said that he did not want to swim in that big pool, it was too deep and too big, and too many fishes since he had seen the porpoise and dolphins from the safety of his father’s broad shoulders. Even then, he would fuss if Billy got too close to the railing. All I could think of was sharks since my father used to tell me that sharks would follow the ships during WWII waiting for them to throw the garbage overboard, and all I could think of was huge schools of sharks following the big ship and devouring the leftovers. Yes, I still had my lifelong fear of sharks from my encounters living on The Isle of Palms, and I was not too sure that I wanted to go swimming in these waters either, although they did look cool and inviting. Unlike the green waters of the Atlantic, the Pacific Ocean is blue, and I wondered why the difference briefly, but my brief respite forgotten, I snapped back to reality as Margie woke up and let me know that she was hungry.
Billy still did not want me to nurse in public, not even on the almost deserted deck, and I did not either since the shy Southern girl did not think it ‘proper’ behavior for a lady, much less an officer’s lady. I told him that he could stay up here with Michael if he wanted, but he said that he would rather go back to the cabin, pack and have our bags out early, so all of us headed down to the tiny cramped cabins.
While Billy packed and I nursed Margie, Michael was happy to sit out in the tiny hall between our two cabins and play with his cars. He exhibited no desire to run away from us and obediently took Billy’s hand or mine when told. As bad as I felt about the bruise over his eyebrow, and of course, Billy felt worse, I hoped that Michael would never try to run away again. In vain, I was sure, but one could hope.
When he finished packing his and Michael’s clothing, Billy came into the cabin to pack Margie’s diaper bag with the needed food for several meals, plenty of diapers, several changes and her heating dish since we had no idea where or when we would be able to settle down into quarters of our own. By the time I finished putting the clean clothes into my own suitcase, the steward came around looking for Michael to ring the lunch bell and to remind us to leave our suitcases outside of our door and to pick up any valuables in the purser’s office. Now that would be nice even to have valuables, but all of mine were living and breathing, and frankly I would not have had it any other way!
Mistakenly, I thought that lunch would be slight since the crew also was preparing for their ‘turn-around’ to the mainland within twenty-four hours of reaching port, but the menu was as extensive as usual, and not in the least like anyone was in any great rush to get us off so they could prepare the ship for more paying passengers. The mainland, meaning the United States mainland since Hawaii was now a state and it sounded awkward to refer to the North American Continent as ‘America’ or ‘the states’, so they called their sister states the ‘mainland’. I had learned that we were called ‘haoles’ since we were not of the Hawaiian heritage, and that each syllable in each word was pronounced in their language, thus making it simple, at least to the Hawaiians, but it was similar to our native American words, like Chattahoochee and Mississippi. I simply found it rather difficult to pronounce words that were sixteen or more letters long!
Following lunch Billy checked our cabins again while I nursed Margie, and with our luggage gone, we went up on deck to watch the big liner dock and to see what we could of Pearl Harbor. This too was on Billy’s list of things to do and places to see. He wanted to visit the Arizona Memorial to all those boys who had lost their lives during the Japanese attack on the island, which really was not so long ago, and I too was interested since I had heard so many Navy war stories from my father. He had been a student at the University of Georgia when Pearl Harbor was bombed, but instead of waiting to be drafted, which would have put him into the Army most likely, after graduation, he enlisted in the Navy. He was sent to New York City to attend what was called the ’90 Day Wonder’ School at Columbia University where recent college graduates attended extensive classes for 90 days and came out a Navy Ensign. My parents were married in New York City at The Little Church around the Corner after my mother, discovering that she was pregnant with me, followed my father to New York. This was wartime, and I am sure that they were just one among thousands of young couples who married this way, and while I used to hold it against them, of course with maturity, I found it quite romantic. After all, the same thing, almost, had happened to Billy and me. Anyway, now I could see first-hand the infamous Pearl Harbor where WWII really began for the United States of America.
When we finally spotted land, the island seemed so small, and in actuality, it is not very large. Soon the ship was in water that was as clear as a swimming pool, and a deep aqua, the prettiest color I had ever seen. With the sun glistening off the swells, it appeared to be an undulating sea of aqua chiffon.
Before the ship could get close to the terminal, where I could see a crowd waiting around the base of the Aloha Tower, we received a local native aloha. Divers in briefs and women with long blue-black hair wearing grass-skirts and bra-like tops in colors and patterns that rivaled the tropics in color, came out to the ship in their strange double-hulled boats, called catamarans. Soon passengers were throwing glistening dimes and quarters overboard for the natives to dive after, and I watched fascinated while some coins never completed their downward spiral, while others came to rest on the white sand bottom of the clear sea. I doubt if many coins found their way to the bottom as diver after diver even some that looked as young as twelve-yrs, flung themselves vertically from their boats to dive to the ocean floor. Some of the ‘greeters’ came aboard, climbing nets thrown over the sides of the ship, just for the purpose of allowing this welcome. Mostly the women came with leis so colorful that they reminded me of a parrot’s feathers, and some made of stunning lavender orchids woven into an enchanted garland. They were carrying pineapples, mangos, papaya, and coconuts; at least those fruits I could identify. The show was probably staged and paid for by The Matson Line, and it occurred bi-weekly as the Lurline and its sister ship neared their berths at the Aloha Tower, but still it was a fascinating introduction to the rich and colorful legacy of the native Hawaiians. Michael was awestruck, and especially when the conch shell sounded with it plaintive wail, and Billy found some change for him to throw for the divers.
Closer to the ship’s rail than he had been during the entire voyage, Michael laughed and shouted with excitement, “Mommy, Daddy, that boy caught my quarter before it hit the bottom”!
How I wished then that I could capture that day in his memory since he probably would not be able to remember it for himself. As we neared the dock, we could hear a band playing ‘Aloha’, which means both hello and goodbye in the Hawaiian language, and all of a sudden, I felt like I needed to pinch myself. After all this time dreaming about paradise we were about to set foot on its very shore. I did not need to pinch myself enough not to notice that Billy was enjoying the sparsely clad native women and his eyes seemed to be riveted to those with especially large breasts. I wanted to kick him, not pinch myself, and I thought about thrusting his daughter into his arms so the girls could see that my handsome lieutenant was not only married, but also a father! Before I could follow through with my intentions, his attention was once again on his family as we neared the gangplank to be among the first to disembark.
He looked so handsome in his ‘suntan’ uniform with his airborne wings gleaming on his chest and the gold and black Ranger’s crescent on his shoulder. Soon he would be wearing the 25th Division’s red and gold tropical lightning patch on his right shoulder, and he would have to have them sewn on to all his uniforms just as soon as he reported for duty. For now, he still wore the blue and white patch of The Infantry School. He would have to buy the special epaulets and the accompanying brass for his shoulders that denoted the 1st Battalion of the 14th Infantry Brigade, also known as the ‘Golden Dragons’ that honored their history of battle in China. Their motto was ‘Right of the Line’, and Billy had been studying the history of this famous unit since he had received his orders. Other than that, we knew that he would be assigned as a platoon leader in Charlie Company, and he needed the command time before he could apply for his Regular Army commission, but he also would be ‘acting Executive Officer’, as the officers were few, and most were assigned to more than one job.
Oh my, he was so proud, walking down that gangplank, the elite of the United States Army, when all of a sudden, the diaper bag he was carrying came open and jar after jar of baby food bounced down the gangplank in front and beside him! After I recovered from my horror to what I feared his reaction would be, I realized, as he began to laugh while rounding up and accepting from others the wayward jars, that he was still a husband and a father first this proud Airborne Ranger soldier of mine.
My Billy, the boy I had married when I was just a child myself, but our love had brought us on a long, long journey, not just in miles, but in life as well, and our love was stronger than it had ever been. Now if Uncle Sam would just live up to his promises, and I threw God in there too since I knew that we would need to have a strong faith on our side to survive Vietnam unscathed.
Captain Armstrong, commanding officer of Charlie Company, was there to greet us, and quite anxious to get a officer of Billy’s caliber. After all, North Georgia College cadets had made their worth known throughout the Army, and with Billy’s recent specialized training, like his own, he had a ‘choice’ officer to share his rather magnanimous duties. He greeted us with the traditional lei for me, he shook hands with Billy and welcomed both of us to Hawaii, and after we picked up our luggage, we were off to Schofield Barracks to have supper with his family in their quarters. We may be on solid ground now, but I still felt as if I was aboard ship, and it took a week for the feeling to wear off!
With that welcome, we thought that nothing bad could possibly be awaiting us as we began our tour of duty in paradise.